the shape of leadership

Using Social Media Redemptively

Ask three questions before you post online

John Wootton on January 24, 2022

For years, companies have been harnessing the power of social media to sell their products and build their brands. It has taken a while, but more and more churches and ministers are realizing the potential of these tools to share the message of the gospel with a world that desperately needs to hear about the hope Jesus offers.

Unfortunately, not every Christian on social media is helping the cause of Christ. Some are stirring up division, spreading misinformation, and shirking their responsibility to be witnesses of Jesus. Instead of making disciples, they are making enemies, skeptics, and echo chambers. It is not only concerning, but it also has far-reaching ethical implications.

For ministers especially, social media use should be about more than getting “likes” and “clicks.” Every communication platform, and every conversation, is an opportunity to represent Jesus to the world, and we must take that seriously. Here are three questions to consider as you reflect on how you and your church use social media:

1. Who is your audience? The apostles adapted the unchanging message of the gospel to reach people in different contexts.

Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul recognized that he needed to communicate differently to Gentiles who were unfamiliar with the Scriptures than he did to the Jewish people in the synagogues.

Similarly, many of the people who see our social media posts are not yet followers of Jesus. And some likely have no church background at all. Thus, what we say in 280 characters on a Twitter account should probably differ from what we say to congregants at a midweek Bible study.

God calls us to be salt and light to the world and to set an example for the believers we influence. When we carefully consider our various audiences and tailor our messages to reach them, we will evangelize and disciple more effectively.

2. How should you engage? We want to steward our limited time and energy well, and that means going where we can reach the most people. Connection cards and surveys can shed light on how visitors and regular attenders access information. Did they learn about the church on social media — and if so, which platform? Do they prefer to hear about upcoming events via email, the church website, or social media?

We live in a digital world, and online ministry is here to stay. In a 2020 Barna Group survey of U.S. churched adults, a majority of millennial (53%) and Generation Z (51%) respondents indicated that even after the pandemic ended, they would prefer either mostly online services or a combination of digital and physical gatherings, rather than a largely in-person church model.

This tells me we can and should expand the ways we influence others with the good news, and that includes using social media. I routinely seek input from younger team members who know the latest social media trends and how to navigate various platforms.

Of course, it’s not necessary to be in every social media space. We focus on quality over quantity — both in terms of the number of platforms we utilize and the number of posts we share. Managing one or two accounts well is better than attempting four or five and doing even one of them poorly.

3. What should you avoid? We don’t have to comment on everything. In fact, it’s probably best if we don’t. Silence does not always equal complacency, and there is wisdom in stewarding our public commentary.

Every communication platform, and every conversation, is an opportunity to represent Jesus to
the world, and we
must take that seriously.

Paul confronted the Corinthians about their sin but said it was not his job to judge those who were outside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12–13). Verbal challenges and rebukes toward people who were not yet part of the worship community focused on their core need to surrender the entirety of their lives to the lordship of Jesus.

This is not to suggest that Christians should say or do nothing on social media. On the contrary, we should graciously and generously encourage, advocate, share, invite, comfort, pray, and point to Jesus.

However, we must remember that when we attach the name of Jesus or His Church to a divisive social or political ideology, we immediately turn off those who see things differently. They can miss the love of Jesus because they can’t get past the notion that God endorses a different political party than the one with which they identify.

Further, we incite fellow believers who disagree to counter our position publicly, and we end up showing a watching world division rather than unity. This diminishes our effectiveness as witnesses for Christ.

Redemptive Purpose

Using a variety of methods to get people’s attention is nothing new. In fact, the Bible teaches that God communicates with us in different ways:

  • Creation makes His divine nature obvious, even to wicked people (Romans 1:18–20).
  • His Law is internally hardwired into the consciences of humanity (Romans 2:14–15).
  • Scripture — all of it — points to Jesus (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).
  • Christ incarnate revealed God through His words and deeds (John 1:18).
  • Pentecost released Spirit-empowered believers and worship communities to fulfill the Great Commission by declaring and displaying God’s love (Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8).

God is willing to do whatever it takes to draw people to himself. We can follow His example by using social media to motivate disciples and let a hurting world know that Jesus is the answer.

Dos and Don’ts

Here are 12 do’s and don’ts of ministering on social media:

  1. Do show consistency in your online presence, both in responding to people and initiating interactions. Even when he was in prison, Paul managed to stay in touch with his followers.
  2. Don’t post just for the sake of posting, and don’t disappear for long periods without explanation.
  3. Do prayerfully and thoughtfully engage with creativity, empathy, wisdom, encouragement, and appropriate humor (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13).
  4. Don’t sow seeds of division or resentment (Romans 12:18; Ephesians 4:29). James 1:19–20 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
  5. Do strive for personal humility and authenticity (Romans 12:3,9).
  6. Don’t draw undue attention to yourself, either by self-glorification or by stoking concern over an unhealthy focus on your personal flaws (Proverbs 27:2; 2 Timothy 1:7).
  7. Do talk about Jesus and His Church in ways non-Christians and new believers can understand (1 Corinthians 3:1–3; 1 Peter 2:2).
  8. Don’t overwhelm an unchurched audience with content that is more fitting for established worshippers (Hebrews 5:12).
  9. Do promote Jesus, along with the testimonies of people who honor Him and His Word (Acts 4:33).
  10. Don’t hamper unity by vaguely or specifically criticizing the Church or Christian leaders on social media platforms (Matthew 18:15–20; John 17:20–21).
  11. Do share the simple and powerful truth of the gospel (Romans 1:16).
  12. Don’t share misinformation or conspiracies (Philippians 4:8). Spreading falsehoods damages your credibility and detracts from the message of Christ.

This article appears in the Winter 2022 edition of Influence magazine.

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